What do you expect from an ebook?

I love books, as you probably guess. I have always loved books, and as a child my bedroom was filled with books, favourites were of course, Roald Dahl, Dick King Smith and Michael Morpurgo. I also read Lord of the Flies when I was in primary school and have a couple of my dad’s childhood books, including ‘Gumphlumph’ which is a very old copy now!

As a child I loved nothing more than heading to Waterstones on Deansgate, Manchester. I still love that store now. I was fortunate that my birthday falls two weeks before Christmas and so I was often given book tokens for one or both events by my family – January was spent begging my parents to take me to Waterstones to get my books for the next few months.

So… I’ve always had a passion for books. I love all types of book; old books, that have that well thumbed look and feel about them, and I love the smell of crisp new books, and being the first to read them. I spend many a lunchtime perusing the shelves of WH Smith in the train station… somehow managing to refrain from picking up a book. I read a wide range of books, mostly crime/thriller books but also chick-lit, romance, historical saga etc. Pretty much anything.

I’ve already written in a previous blog post here, that I love my Kindle, and despite being a bit of a Luddite about it, have grown to really appreciate the exciting new world of indie authors that it’s opened me up to.

So.. what do YOU expect from an ebook?

I’ll say it now… for me an ebook is never going to have the same presentation and feel as a physical book, but does that make the finish any less important?

Readers of this blog and twitter followers will have seen that I read a lot of books, averaging three a week, and I am uncompromising in my expectations. I find all too often that ebooks are lacking that final finish…. for me it makes a real difference. For example, I want a front cover, I want the book to be well-edited, I want the book to be formatted correctly.

At lunch with some friends a week or so ago, I told them about my foray into the world of book reviewing, and one friend said ‘I love it when I find a spelling error in a book – it’s like when you find them in the newspapers…’. What she meant by this is that it’s so rare and infrequent that it’s almost a triumph to find an error. So why are errors so frequent in ebooks by indie authors?

Let me say I am in awe of all authors – I am not creative enough to even begin to think of a story, and I don’t mean my comments as criticisms, but it seems to me that if you’re going to invest the time in writing a book, then surely it’s worth that last bit of effort to get the packaging right?

What is your opinion? Should authors and e-publishers be striving for the same levels of editing and finish readers would find in a traditional book or am I just being a bit picky and it doesn’t really matter?

For me, when editing is done well then it makes a huge difference. I understand that a recent author whose book I gave a five star review to used Daniel Goldsmith to edit his book. I really cannot state just what a difference it made to the reader experience. The book was flawless with tight story lines and characters and editing that was sublime. I’ve since received a physical copy of the book and it is every bit as good as I had expected. It looks professional and looks like it belongs on the shelves of Waterstones. I’ve received other hard copies of indie books that haven’t been quite as professional in their appearance.

So, dear readers…. it matters to me, but does the finish of an ebook matter as much to you?

 

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “What do you expect from an ebook?

  1. Typos are the bane of every author. Any writer or proofreader may reread a typo or spelling error in a manuscript 50 times and not discover it until it appears in print, invariably pointed out by someone like your triumphant friend. It’s rare to see a 90,000-word book, even from the most reputable publishing houses, entirely typo-free. I do agree that readers should reasonably expect a published book—print or digital—to be clean, and authors who ignore neatness do so at their own peril. My reaction as a reader is, ‘What else is wrong with this book?’ It isn’t the typos and spelling mistakes, it’s the red flag they raise, distracting me from what otherwise may be good content. Back in my junior-reporter days, when we bashed out stories on typewriters, I sat in the newsroom next to a senior writer who erased mistakes on his copy paper before submitting his stories. “Neatness counts,” he advised me. Best advice I’ve ever had.

  2. Pingback: My week in books – 12 – 19 February | A Kindle & Kittens

  3. During my five years of tutoring film students I always asked them to look at each of their films as a Timeline that incorporated an assortment of building blocks comprising the narrative, whatever the genre, whatever the style. The audience, I suggested, should never be aware of these blocks, because the Timeline, be it chronological or with no sequential reference, should always be viewed as a mosaic of moving imagery and appear completely seamless. The rule, therefore, was to be conscious of good film grammar and to always blend picture and sound in a co-ordinated symphony of rhythm, tempo and texture, with each transition meaningful but technically invisible.

    The only times I worried that students were paying too close attention to this advice was if any of them produced a body of work that was uninspiring, unoriginal, deadly dull and gave them no voice, since self-expression is fundamental to any form of creative pursuit.

    As a reader I find it frustrating if the rhythm of the story is jarred by unconvincing dialogue, bad grammar and gaping plot holes, since presentation is an important part of the overall experience. Yet whilst I can overlook the occasional grammatical lapses, I tend to be more upset if the story does not draw me in from the outset, offers no turning points, follows a predictable and familiar storyline, overdoes exposition, does not employ subtext, does not inspire, entertain or inform, does not resolve itself satisfactorily and bores me rigid. In those instances I tend to be far less forgiving and my overall judgement would come down to whether I actually enjoyed reading the book and found it a worthy investment of my time.

    • Hi Bob – thanks for commenting on this post.
      I agree with you that fundamentally, the story has to draw you in – and so it should as that is the purpose and pull of a really good book; a story that touches the soul. I’ve read some books recently that had the potential to be brilliant, but the storyline was confused, and there were too many twists and turns, so much so that none were, in my opinon, executed well enough.
      I think books need to be a complete package, whether they’re an ebook or a physical book – the story of course, but without the words and grammar, the story can’t be told

  4. I think the appeal of this blog is you manage to express in words the feelings we have for a good book. And I think you are spot on in expecting the kind of read you have grown up with. A good book is the whole package regardless of the medium. If a Lee Child, Reacher story, was buried beneath bad editing, grammar and spelling, it would ruin the experience. To totally immerse ourselves in a story, the words, grammar and pacing have to be the conduit.

    That said, indie authoring gives readers access to genres the mainstream publishing industry might not think ‘commercial’ enough. One of the indie books I really enjoyed recently was ‘Forged in Fire’ by Trish McCallan. It is labelled ‘Action, Romance, Paranormal’. There are some genres that are so seldom supported commercially, or the story is so good it doesn’t define genre, that people will buy because it’s just damn good or fulfils a need for a certain type of fiction. Often that means the story is buried beneath lots of errors. Although not in the Forged series, that I noticed.

    These are early days for e-publishing and with all things it will evolve. If indie authors want to be successful in the long term they need to embrace quality. To do that I think we will see a lot of collaboration and groups of authors grouping together who possess skills that benefit the group. Amazon are not making much money right now with a vast majority of books priced so low. They will introduce publication fees and annual publisher subscriptions, just like the printed industry. Maybe.

    Only time will tell how the industry will shape, but time has proven what we expect from a good read – that is to lose ourselves in a story. I cannot imagine that changing over the long term.

    • Hi John, and thanks for posting a comment!
      I think that the indie world is brilliant – it’s great that so many non-mainstream genres and titles are being given a platform – In the past two months I’ve read such a wide range of books – and stuff that I would never have picked up in a conventional book store.
      I’ve read a couple of books where the errors and formatting were just so ‘out’ that it really interefered with the reading experience. It ruined the pace of the book and I was becoming frustrated with having to go back and re-read sentences to understand the meaning – for me the spelling, grammar and format should be almost invisible; they shouldn’t be noticed – they should just ‘be’.

  5. You are right to care about the finished quality of a book or ebook. I think some of the problems with self-published books can be attributed to the learning curve. Formatting can be confusing and frustrating. But editing? I believe the work should go out to as many pre-pub readers as possible for input, should be scoured for typos and punctuation, (professionally edited if one can afford the cost), and then released. Understand, there are errors in even the big six-published novels by best selling authors. After all, perfection is just a concept. But it is reasonable to expect a book to present in a manner that does not distract from the content or story.

    • Thanks David. I agree. I can forgive some of the formatting issues, it’s a big learning curve for everyone.
      You’re right in that there will always be errors, but when they become really noticable then I think that’s an issue; it can detract momentarily from the flow of a story if you need to return to a sentence to re-read it.

      • Of course, there can also be stylistic issues that may challenge a reader; that can push the limits of grammar and punctuation. I’m thinking of any of the SOC (stream-of-consciousness) style writings of Sartre, Joyce, even Kerouac, and so many others. I recall re-reading sentences from these authors many times, and it could involve entire pages. But I think it’s okay to be challenged and, as a reader myself, I often find the effort makes the read more rewarding.

  6. Agree with every word of this, Sarah, and you are so clearly a lifelong book-lover.

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